In the ground-breaking King Solomon’s Mines, H. Rider Haggard tells of Allan Quatermain’s adventure through the greatest trials southern Africa could throw at him. This is the classic beginning of the “Adventure Hero” genre best represented by Indiana Jones. Because of this, the short novel is often criticized by many as having stereotypes and clichés. But the one who starts it gets to own it; the clichés come later in literature and film when everyone else over-uses Haggard’s forms.
Haggard’s tale was first published in 1885, when Africa was still a great source of mystery and mystique. His story is a product of the time and yes, it has period racism that is off-putting to modern readers. Today’s academics are generally feeble leftists incapable of appreciating a historical work in its context. They have to write convoluted and high-sounding tomes in their efforts to make sense of what they see as Haggard’s promotion of racism, misogyny and colonialism. (You will immediately know its a liberal if they use the word misogyny, only liberals use it.) While these topics are real and present in King Solomon’s Mines, it is a poor reader who must wring his hands and have his week put our of order by period realities that are, despite their wrong-ness or offensiveness, part of the setting.
Ultimately, we have here a rollicking good adventure that keeps the reader moving along from one close call and near-death experience to the next. Enjoyed with a proper understanding of its place on the timeline of literature and culture, King Solomon’s Mines can be a very grand adventure indeed.
It does, however, suffer from that fact that most modern readers will be over-saturated in the devices and situations encountered in this novel, from Tarzan films of the 1930’s to modern adventure films of all kinds. It is very difficult to be shocked, surprised or held in suspense by Haggard’s various scenes, as the have been the basis of film gags and story elements for a more than a century now. This makes it a challenge. Its an enjoyable challenge if you are up to it. If you have ever needed a politically correct safe space, you should probably stay away from Victorian-era literature.